Scripture: Matthew 27:15-26
When I was a child, part of our family routine on Saturday evenings was to watch Saturday Night Rasslin, telecast live from Oak Hill, West Virginia. It was always full of excitement as the ring side announcer Shirley Love commented on all the action. There was usually a good guy wrestler matched against a villain wrestler that everyone loved to hate. It was not uncommon for one of the villains to run into the audience, grab a folding chair, and come back into the ring and hit his opponent over the head with it. Blood would be flowing down the good guy’s forehead, and it would appear he was down for the count. Then, with an amazing burst of energy, he would come off the mat and unleash with a flurry of arm blows and drop kicks that would send the villain reeling. The crowds would roar in approval. Exhausted, the good guy would often, but not always, win the match. The very next weekend these highly conditioned athletes would return again to the ring as if nothing had every happened. In those events, everyone was longing for a champion, someone who would take down the bad guy and set everything straight. We always are looking for a champion, a hero, someone behind whom we can rally. For centuries, the nation of Israel looked for their champion. They weren’t looking for a wrestler however, they were looking for a warrior. They expected someone who would go head-to-head with the bad guys, the evil occupiers from a foreign nation, and restore sovereign rule to Israel. Beginning with Genesis 3:15, the Jewish rabbis felt that God had been promising to send a Divine Deliverer, the Messiah. This Messiah, as they understood him, would not only defeat Satan but would also begin a political kingdom for Israel that was invincible. No one would be able to win over this coming King, no one would be able pin his shoulders to the mat. No one would be able to lay a finger on him, because he would be God’s Champion. God kept His Word, as He always does, and sent Jesus. Jesus was not just a heavenly soldier, He is God’s Son. This Champion however, did not fight and achieve victory by killing others. He fought, and won, by dying. In this passage, and others related to it, we begin to understand how Jesus losing his life could enable us to win over our two greatest enemies: sin and death. Jesus, by giving his life and then rising from the dead, became the Champion over sin and death. Through giving His life, he redeems us from sin. Redeem is translated from a Greek term that refers to the slave market. For a slave to be redeemed from slavery and experience freedom, someone would have to pay a price to his owner to “redeem” him. Once that price was paid, he was no longer a slave – his freedom had been purchased, and he was no longer a part of the slave market. Jesus’ death redeems us from being slaves to sin. Galatians 4:4-7 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” So Jesus redeems us from sin in at least three different ways.
First of all, the Champion redeems from sin by sacrificing His life. Verses 22 and 23 of our passage say, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” Many people who don’t personally know Jesus understand where He died, when He died and how He died, but they don’t understand why He died. The Old Testament gives us insights as to why Jesus died. Any Jewish rabbi will say that the greatest night in the history of Israel was the first Passover. Israel had lived in slavery in Egypt for 400 years. God promised to free them so they could begin their journey to the Promised Land. Moses warned Pharaoh again and again that severe consequences would come upon the land of Egypt if he didn’t free the Hebrew people. The consequences started and escalated, and Pharaoh refused. Finally God sent an angel to go through every home in Egypt and take the life of every firstborn child during the night. This was the consequence that would motivate Pharaoh to change his mind. On this night however, the people of Israel were told by God to sacrifice a lamb and spread the blood of the lamb over the doorpost of their home. When the angel saw the blood, he would pass over that house and the firstborn would be spared. So from that time until now, the Jews have celebrated the Passover in memory of their deliverance from Egypt. After the Passover, God instituted a system of animal sacrifices to continue the principle of blood covering sin. People would bring an animal to the priest, the priest would kill it, and the blood would cover their sins. For hundreds of years that’s the way it worked with the Jewish people as they served God. This system however, was a permanent arrangement – it was only a symbol of something greater to deal with sin. Listen to Hebrews 10:1-3, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.” The permanent solution for sin is in Jesus sacrificing His life. Romans 3:23-25 tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” In other words, through sacrifices of animals the price for sin was never really paid, it was just postponed. One pastor compared the Old Testament sacrifices to a credit card. When the sacrifices were made, it just moved the expense of sin to a future time. Jesus is the future time – when Jesus sacrificed His life, the debt of sin was not just postponed, it was paid off. Now the spiritual credit cards of the Old Testament are no longer necessary to pay for sin – we have the payment in the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:4 says bluntly, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Only one thing can take away sin, and that is the blood of Jesus. The Champion redeems from sin by sacrificing His life.
Then, the Champion redeems from sin by substituting His death. We are redeemed not only by Jesus’ blood being shed in place of animals, but also by his death taking the place of our death. The first has to do with the provision for sin, the second has to do with the punishment for sin. Verses 15-17 of our passage say, “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” To grasp the significance of this question, we have to understand who Barabbas was. Barabbas was bad news. He wasn’t just a thief, he was a first-century terrorist. Thing is, he was a terrorist against Rome. Everyone hated Rome, everyone wanted to be free of Roman rule. Barabbas was taking matters into his own hands, he was making things happen and Rome suffer. He was looting, he was causing trouble for Roman soldiers, and so what if some women and children would be killed in the process? It was all collateral damage, all things that were a part of nasty means used to achieve the desired end. Jesus, on the other hand, wasn’t doing anything against Rome that the people could see. He wasn’t taking matters into his own hands, he was following the will of his Father, whatever that meant. Sure he had healed some people and rumor had it that he had raised someone named Lazarus from the dead, but he didn’t hate Rome. Jesus even had the audacity to befriend the scum-of-the-earth Roman tax collectors. So when it came time for the people to choose who they would rather set free, they chose someone with whom they could identify, they chose someone who shared their hatred and greed, they choose Barabbas. Now we may be thinking, “I understand the choice of Barabbas, but what does choosing Barabbas over Jesus have to do with me?” You are Barabbas, I am Barabbas. We are much more like Barabbas than we are like Jesus. So when Jesus died so that Barabbas could go free, we go free as well. Galatians 3:13 puts it this way, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—“ Jesus redeems from sin by substituting his death.
Then, the Champion redeems from sin by satisfying God’s justice. Again, Romans 3:23-25 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” An important word is the word translated “propitiation.” The meaning here is ‘the turning away of anger by the offering of a gift, appeasement of anger. “ God’s sense of justice, His anger, His wrath, had to be appeased. Today it is not a trendy thing to speak of God’s wrath. It is however, a very Biblical thing. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, the Bible speaks of God’s wrath. If the Bible speaks on it so consistently, then it must be important. The more we learn of God’s wrath, and how great it is towards sin, the more we can grasp and appreciate what God has done for in Jesus. Before you and I were born, God the Son agreed to become the Champion who would take the punishment of sin for the entire world upon himself. God is a just God – He can’t just let sin go unpunished – sin is a very serious thing, an offense against a holy God. Jesus agreed to take the punishment so that we won’t have to take it. All the wrath, punishment and judgment that sin deserves and demands, God put on this Champion, Jesus. Jesus fought a battle for us that we could not win. Jesus makes it possible for God’s justice to be satisfied so that we can stand before God, as if we’ve never sinned. Through his death, Jesus redeems us from sin by satisfying God’s justice.
So how can you be confident that Jesus really did redeem you? How can you know that things are now right with you and your Creator because of the death He died? You can know because God raised Jesus to life on the third day, never to die again. Romans 1:4 says, [Jesus]…was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,…” 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 tells us, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Have you been redeemed from sin by Jesus? If not, will you ask him to do so?